Pitt | Swanson Engineering

Welcome from the Associate Dean of Diversity

Sylvanus WosuIt is my pleasure to welcome you to the Swanson School of Engineering (SSOE) Office of Diversity. SSOE diversity refers to the integrated differences and similarities that all individuals and programs contribute in the academic mission of the school. The mission of the Engineering Office of Diversity (EOD) is to create and sustain learning and working environments where those differences and similarities are valued and respected, and all students, especially women and underrepresented students are included and empowered to excel in engineering education. EOD provides continuous academic and community support services through four program areas: the Pitt Engineering Career Access Program (PECAP) pre-college INVESTING NOW and college Pitt EXCEL Programs, Diversity Graduate Engineering Program (DGEP), and Diversity Education Program (DEP).

Sylvanus N. Wosu, PhD

Associate Dean for Diversity Affairs


Latinx Community Engagement Grant Awarded to Team of Engineers, Art Historians, and Public Health Educators

Bioengineering, Student Profiles, Diversity

Jorge Jimenez, a PhD candidate in bioengineering, and Marisol Villela Balderrama, a PhD student in history of art and architecture, led a team effort to earn a Year of Engagement 2020 award for “Diseño Juntxs (Design Together): Engineering and Art with the Latinx Community in Pittsburgh.” The Year of Engagement invited students, staff and faculty to create partnerships that confront challenges to engagement and co-create solutions at the institutional, local, regional, statewide, national or international levels in the 2020-21 academic year and beyond. Diseño Juntxs (Design Together) is a series of remote bilingual (Spanish/English) workshops engaging Latinx youth in prototype design activities. The project is a co-partnership with Casa San José, a local Latinx nonprofit organization in Beechview, PA. The team was developed through the Emerging Latinx Community Research and Publishing Group (ELC), a mentoring and networking program for those interested in Latinx health issues. Team members include Casa San José leaders – Executive Director Mrs. Monica Ruiz-Caraballo, Ms. Diana Escobar-Rivera, and José María Ochoa; faculty from public health – Dr. Patricia Documet and Dr. Sharon Ross; faculty from history of art and architecture – Dr. Sahar Hosseini; and the local undergraduate chapter of Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers, led by president Cuatemohc Macias. “Diseño Juntxs (Design Together) originated from being an active member of the ELC since late 2018,” Jimenez said. “Through our monthly meetings I learned about their community-based research focused on the emerging Latinx presence in communities like Allegheny County. Specifically, how the Latinx community obtains resources and services related to education, finances, health, housing, and social life.” Members of the ELC have contributed to the local Latinx community by researching women’s health, parental perspectives on physical activity and healthy eating, and health education in men. Additional community projects contributed to making the Latinx presence more visible through Ojo Latino Project, a photovoice project, and Disrespecting the Border, a mural workshop. During the immediate impact of COVID-19, the ELC met remotely to share resources and work with community leaders to assess needs, and these efforts are continually transforming. “Organizations like Casa San José served as community members’ ‘go-to’ for food security, COVID-19 testing and awareness, and social support,” Jimenez explained. “Over the summer, Casa San José held virtual youth activities based on art and education, and I felt that I could make the biggest impact by contributing to their growing body of work,” they continued. “I shared my ideas with our ELC mentors and began to collaborate with Marisol, who has been integral in incorporating cultural and historical aspects of design in Latin America.” Diseño Juntxs (Design Together) will focus on art and design of the Americas in the Pre-Columbian traditions and teach the engineering design process using free, bilingual 3D prototyping software (Tinkercad.com, Autodesk Inc.). “Our culturally tailored approaches to design thinking bridge interdisciplinary perspectives, and we believe our strategy to be inclusive to our community,” Jimenez added. “I hope this project adds value to the education space as a case study in inclusive practices to teaching design.” This project is supported with matching funds from the Swanson School of Engineering’s Dr. Mary Besterfield-Sacre, associate dean of academic affairs and director of the Engineering Education Research Center, and Dr. Jennifer Josten, department chair of history of art and architecture. A virtual ceremony was held on Nov. 16 at noon via Zoom, announcing the winners for the first cycle of Pitt’s Year of Engagement 2020. # # #
Jorge Jimenez

Pitt Engineering Alumnus Dedicates Major Gift Toward Undergraduate Tuition Support

All SSoE News, Bioengineering, Chemical & Petroleum, Civil & Environmental, Electrical & Computer, Industrial, MEMS, Student Profiles, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs, Nuclear, Diversity, Investing Now

PITTSBURGH (October 21, 2020) …  An eight-figure donation from an anonymous graduate of the Swanson School of Engineering and spouse to the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering in their estate planning to provide financial aid to undergraduate students who are enrolled in the Pitt EXCEL Program. Announced today by Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher and US Steel Dean of Engineering James R. Martin II, the donors' bequest will provide tuition support for underprivileged or underrepresented engineering students who are residents of the United States of America and in need of financial aid. “I am extremely grateful for this gift, which supports the University of Pittsburgh’s efforts to tackle one of society’s greatest challenges—the inequity of opportunity,” Gallagher said. “Put into action, this commitment will help students from underrepresented groups access a world-class Pitt education and—in doing so—help elevate the entire field of engineering.” “Our dedication as engineers is to create new knowledge that benefits the human condition, and that includes educating the next generation of engineers. Our students’ success informs our mission, and I am honored and humbled that our donors are vested in helping to expand the diversity of engineering students at Pitt,” Martin noted. “Often the most successful engineers are those who have the greatest need or who lack access, and support such as this is critical to expanding our outreach and strengthening the role of engineers in society.” A Gift to Prepare the Workforce of the Future Martin noted that the gift is timely because it was made shortly after Chancellor Gallagher’s call this past summer to create a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment for all, especially for the University’s future students. The gift – and the donors’ passion for the Swanson School – show that there is untapped potential as well as significant interest in addressing unmet need for students who represent a demographic shift in the American workforce.  “By 2050, when the U.S. will have a minority-majority population, two-thirds of the American workforce will require a post-secondary education,” Martin explained. “We are already reimagining how we deliver engineering education and research, and generosity such as this will lessen the financial burden that students will face to prepare for that future workforce.” A Half-Century of IMPACT on Engineering Equity In 1969 the late Dr. Karl Lewis (1/15/1936-3/5/2019) founded the IMPACT Program at the University of Pittsburgh to encourage minority and financially and culturally disadvantaged students to enter and graduate from the field of engineering. The six-week program prepared incoming first year students through exposure to university academic life, development of study skills, academic and career counseling, and coursework to reinforce strengths or remedy weaknesses. Many Pitt alumni today still note the role that Lewis and IMPACT had on their personal and professional lives.  Under Lewis’ leadership, IMPACT sparked the creation of two award-winning initiatives within the Swanson School’s Office of Diversity: INVESTING NOW, a college preparatory program created to stimulate, support, and recognize the high academic performance of pre-college students from groups that are historically underrepresented in STEM majors. Pitt EXCEL, a comprehensive undergraduate diversity program committed to the recruitment, retention, and graduation of academically excellent engineering undergraduates, particularly individuals from groups historically underrepresented in the field. “Dr. Lewis, like so many of his generation, started a movement that grew beyond one person’s idea,” said Yvette Wisher, Director of Pitt EXCEL. “Anyone who talks to today’s EXCEL students can hear the passion of Dr. Lewis and see how exceptional these young people will be as engineers and individuals. They and the hundreds of students who preceded them are the reason why Pitt EXCEL is game-changer for so many.”  Since its inception, Pitt EXCEL has helped more than 1,500 students earn their engineering degrees and become leaders and change agents in their communities. Ms. Wisher says the most important concept she teaches students who are enrolled in the program is to give back however they can once they graduate—through mentorship, volunteerism, philanthropy, or advocacy.  Supporting the Change Agents of Tomorrow “Pitt EXCEL is a home - but more importantly, a family. The strong familial bonds within Pitt EXCEL are what attracted me to Swanson as a graduating high school senior, what kept me going throughout my time in undergrad and what keeps me energized to this very day as a PhD student,” explained Isaiah M. Spencer Williams, BSCE ’19 and currently a pre-doctoral student in the Swanson School’s Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. “Pitt EXCEL is a family where iron sharpens iron and where we push each other to be the best that we can be every day. Beyond that, it is a space where you are not only holistically nurtured and supported but are also groomed to pave the way for and invest into those who are coming behind you.  “Pitt EXCEL, and by extension, Dr. Lewis' legacy and movement are the reasons why I am the leader and change agent that I am today. This generous gift will ensure a bright future for underrepresented engineering students in the Pitt EXCEL Program, and will help to continue the outstanding development of the change agents of tomorrow.”  Setting a Foundation for Community Support “Next year marks the 51st anniversary of IMPACT/EXCEL as well as the 175th year of engineering at Pitt and the 50th anniversary of Benedum Hall,” Dean Martin said. “The Swanson School of Engineering represents 28,000 alumni around the world, who in many ways are life-long students of engineering beyond the walls of Benedum, but who share pride in being Pitt Engineers. “The key to our future success is working together as a global community to find within ourselves how we can best support tomorrow’s students,” Martin concluded. “We should all celebrate this as a foundational cornerstone gift for greater engagement.” ###


When Words Aren’t Enough: EXCEL Students Reflect on Inequities in Education

Diversity, Student Profiles

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, a new generation of digital age students were awakened to the deep-rooted issues that contribute to racism in higher education. Now, they are dedicating energy to solve those issues, in their own communities and beyond. At the University of Pittsburgh, a group of Swanson School of Engineering students and alumni plan to push for sustained change and hope that the University will unite to create a better environment for everyone. They want to help colleges and universities evolve into places that feel welcoming and accessible for students of all races, sexual orientations, and backgrounds. In doing this, they hope to create a rippling effect that will contribute to equality in the workforce and society as a whole. Finding a Space to be Black One challenge that underrepresented students in STEM face is the feeling that they cannot be authentically themselves and also fit in. Many students feel that they must code-switch in order to succeed. Pitt alumnus Rodney Kizito (BS IE ‘15) lauded the Swanson School and Yvette Moore’s efforts in establishing and directing Pitt EXCEL, a diversity program for underrepresented engineering students, which gives them a space to be themselves and support one another. “EXCEL gives us that sense of family and belonging where not everybody looks like you, but you’re all connected and share a common love and respect,” he said. “You don’t find many programs like this, and I haven’t had a comparable experience in my 10 years in academia.” When students discuss an inclusive environment, among other things, they want a place where they feel represented, heard, equal, and accepted. Sam Copeland, a junior in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, worked with EXCEL’s Summer Engineering Academy (SEA), which helps students make a smooth transition from high school to college. He echoed Kizito’s sentiment and saw its impact on the students’ choice in college. “The students in SEA have been coming because of the Pitt EXCEL family,” he said. “With COVID-19 and the current racial justice movements, they’ve really felt the power of EXCEL. They understand that we’re not just trying to meet a diversity quota. We want to support you and help you be the best person you can be.” Pitt EXCEL is an example of the space and inclusivity that students seek and how that can drive participation in college programs. However, according to the students, creating a space to be Black is only one of the gears that need to shift. Representation Matters Bringing diverse faculty to the educational system is part of the change that the students want to see. Enacting that change may not only help recruit and retain underrepresented minorities, but also provide something as simple as a fresh perspective on how race and culture intersect with various disciplines. “Because engineering has a deep relationship within the public sector, racial cultures should have a larger component in the design of some structure,” said Copeland. “More often than not, it is just avoided because it makes people ‘awkward’ or ‘uncomfortable.’” Given how engineering can impact the human condition, the students believe that the curriculum should represent and reflect the diverse global population and not assume a one-size-fits-all approach. “We aren’t written into the curriculum,” said Rene Canady (BS BioE ’20). “It’s not just Black people; in general, people of color are omitted from today’s education.” In creating a more inclusive curriculum, they believe that engineers can better serve society as a whole. A Call to Action As everyone begins to navigate the fall semester, the Swanson School students do not want the passion and drive for this movement to slow. For many, it is not simply a change of behavior; it is a change of mentality. Individuals may have to grapple with their own shortcomings and way of thinking. “I think those that acknowledge the struggle but fail to acknowledge the privilege that they have are the ones who may fall short in how far they can go to truly help us,” said Kizito. From July 28-30, the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion hosted Diversity Forum 2020, Advancing Social Justice: A Call to Action. Ibram X. Kendi, director of the Center for Anti-racist Research at Boston University and author of How to Be an Anti-Racist, delivered the keynote in which he said, “To do nothing is to be complicit because that allows for the maintenance of racism.” The students in EXCEL want to have conversations about sacrifices people are willing to make in order to help others feel like they belong. “It’s not enough just to say that you’re not racist, we should strive to be anti-racist, as Dr. Kendi discussed in the Diversity Forum,” said Yemisi Odunlami, a senior in industrial engineering. “We all have some level of privilege, and we have to be able to recognize that and be willing to lose it so we can have an even playing field. “You don’t have to personally know a person of color to feel affected and want to enact change,” she continued. “The Marathon Continues” This year’s major events are a marathon; whether discussing the pandemic or racial justice, change is not going to happen in a day, but one has to keep running and fighting. And so, as EXCEL alumna Sossena Wood (BSEE ‘11 PhD BioE ’18) says, the marathon continues. “I was in high school when Black Lives Matter started, and I remember you couldn’t have posters or even a sticker on your binder,” recalled Odunlami. “Now corporations and universities are saying it, so I definitely feel hopeful, but we need to keep things moving.” She, like many others, feels optimistic for the future but wants to experience continuous inclusivity, not just after tragedies. “Each generation has had their own contribution to getting us to where we feel that level of equality,” said Kizito. “I’m definitely hopeful, and I feel blessed to witness what’s happening right now.” These engineering students, who have had both positive and negative experiences as underrepresented minorities in higher education, hope to see a transformation and believe that these changes will make it a better environment for the university as a whole in the years to come. # # # Resources Swanson School of Engineering’s Office of Diversity Pitt’s Center on Race and Social Problems (CRSP) Justice in June - a resource compiled by Autumn Gupta with Bryanna Wallace’s oversight for the purpose of providing a starting place for individuals trying to become better allies. Anti-racism for beginners Other educational resources Follow @BlackOwnedPGH on Instagram to support local Black-owned businesses Literature: White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son by Tim Wise Uprooting Racism: How White People Can Work for Racial Justice by Paul Kivel. White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin DiAngelo How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi Biased: Uncovering the Hidden Prejudice That Shapes What We See, Think, and Do by Jennifer L. Eberhardt Dowd, Alicia C., and Estela Mara Bensimon. Engaging the Race Question: Accountability and Equity in U.S. Higher Education. New York: Teachers College Press, 2015. Harper, Shaun R. Race Matters in College. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, forthcoming. Museus, Samuel D., and Uma M. Jayakumar. Creating Campus Cultures: Fostering Success among Racially Diverse Student Populations. New York: Routledge, 2012. Quaye, Stephen John, and Shaun R. Harper. Student Engagement in Higher Education: Theoretical Perspectives and Practical Approaches for Diverse Populations. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2014. Smith, Daryl G. Diversity’s Promise for Higher Education: Making It Work. 2nd ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015. Steele, Claude M. Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do. New York: W. W. Norton, 2011. Sue, Derald Wing. Microaggressions in Everyday Life: Race, Gender, and Sexual Orientation. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2010. Sue, Derald Wing. Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley,


Pork Dumplings with a Side of Wisdom, on ‘Seasoned’

Diversity, Student Profiles

Nse O’Dean had prepared some of his ingredients ahead of time: He had chicken in a plastic bag, coated with a vibrant blend of curry spices; a bag of frozen vegetables on stand-by; and a pan on the back burner. He adjusted the camera (his phone, propped up on the counter), poured some oil into a hot pan, and began chatting about his job, his car and his future plans. With his face ever-so-slightly out of frame, the recent graduate of University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering shared his cooking steps with all the ambiguity of a true family recipe. All the while, he fielded live questions from an audience of Pitt EXCEL students and friends: “What gave you the most anxiety when you got out of college?” “How do you get back to your focus if you find yourself feeling lost?” and “How do you get comfortable with the unknown?” It’s true across cultures and throughout time: Cooking brings people together. It’s a way of sharing traditions and culture while caring for the people closest to us. It was with that in mind that Pitt EXCEL, the undergraduate diversity program at the Swanson School, created the Seasoned video series on Instagram. Each 45-minute, biweekly Instagram Live video welcomes a member of the Pitt EXCEL community to share wisdom on a given topic while cooking a dish of their choosing. Delicate red velvet waffles, tidy pork dumplings and spicy Tuscan shrimp pasta were created live on camera while the chefs answered questions about careers, identity and navigating today’s world. The mind behind the series is Halima Morafa, a Pitt EXCEL member and a junior studying mechanical engineering. She worked with Yvette Moore, director of Pitt EXCEL, to develop the idea. They wanted to showcase both the wisdom inherent in the community and the cooking skills developed during quarantine. “Seasoned came to me as an expression that no matter what, food and conversation will bring people together. The connection is bigger than the divide,” said Moore. “It was a time for the young Pitt EXCEL Scholars to learn from some of their legacies. “Sometimes, as people of color we forget we have a legacy that is strong and rich. This is what Seasoned created while we all were able to sit around our virtual kitchens,” she added. Seasoned has been a perfect antidote to the fatigue caused by the pandemic, the loneliness of quarantining and the stress around the Black Lives Matter movement.  “I’ve always seen food as the center of a community. Seasoned was something lighthearted and gave us a time to connect with family and be there for each other,” said Morafa. “With everything being virtual, it feels good to have community engagement, but with real conversations about real things.” The videos themselves feel casual and personal—as if the host, who relays questions and provides comment, is chatting with a friend who happens to be making dinner—but the topics make for impactful discussions. “I loved listening in on conversations as there were always nuggets of wisdom I took from them,” said Ruby DeMaio (ChemE ’22), a current EXCEL student. “Pitt EXCEL has a really great relationship with our alumni, and this was definitely a different way of getting to hear from them. Overall the series came across as very organic and I can't wait for it to come back!” Seasoned created a space for alumni to connect with their friends and support one another, as well. “I kept tuning in because each person featured was someone that I had the chance to get to know during my time at Pitt so I got the chance to hear from them and watch them make a new cuisine at the same time,” said Jahari Mercer (IE ‘20), an EXCEL alum. “Pitt Excel really is one big family, and so I tuned in to be around my family. I had the chance to see others tuning in and chat with them while we were all online. “For me, it was fun just to laugh and hear from others that you don't get to physically see during this time.” So far, viewers have heard from several EXCEL alumni: Rene Canady about growing pains while learning to make red velvet waffles; Nse O’Dean created his feast of curried chicken, peas and rice and chow mein while discussing being comfortable with the unknown. Christine Nguyen talked about giving back to the community while sharing her take on bun rieu, a Vietnamese crab noodle soup, and Kiara Lee showcased her colorful salad techniques while chatting about work-life balance. Current students also shared their wisdom. Morafa chatted about the importance of good communication while preparing Tuscan shrimp pasta with an added kick, and Sydney Anderson, a senior studying chemical engineering, shared her insights on building self-confidence, while creating pork dumplings. “All the chefs have been great with a plethora of knowledge,” said Morafa. “All around, it’s a fun show to tune into and learn something from peers. It lets us connect with our family over the summer.” Though the series was set to run only until the end of the summer, the videos remain on Instagram to inspire. Find all of the Seasoned videos on Pitt EXCEL’s Instagram (@PittEXCEL).
Maggie Pavlick

A Message from U.S. Steel Dean James Martin II on the 155th Celebration of Juneteenth

All SSoE News, Diversity, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs, Investing Now

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